Sun: Open source for the masses

Developers, rev your engines. Sun is jettisoning nine million lines of StarOffice code into open source on Friday
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Sun Microsystems is billing it as the biggest project in open source history.

Today, Friday the 13th -- a target fatalistically selected by Sun back in July and achieved on time -- Sun placed all nine million lines of StarOffice 6 alpha code into open source.

As of today, developers interested in viewing, tinkering with, and/or licensing the StarOffice desktop office suite or its component parts are free to download the code from www.openoffice.org.

"This will be programming in the large made public for the first time," said Bill Roth, Sun group product manager. "This is nine times the size of Mozilla."

With Openoffice.org, Sun is attempting to duplicate the strategy that was adopted by AOL's Netscape division with its Mozilla open source spinoff.

Openoffice.org, like Mozilla.org, is the keeper of the open source version of the technology. Individual licensors -- including Sun -- will take "commercial forks" of the Openoffice technology and turn them into commercialised products, while giving back any and all code changes to Openoffice.org. With Netscape 6, Netscape is engaging in a similar practice with Mozilla.org.

Roth said he didn't know when Sun might ship a commercial version of StarOffice 6 but promised a full road map some time down the road.

"We're evaluating how moving to open source will affect our development process," he said. But the commercial version of Version 6 of the suite will support Windows, Linux, Solaris, and the MacOS platforms, Roth added.

As with just about every commercially backed open source project these days, there are some caveats for those interested in the code on Openoffice.org. Not only do interested parties have to agree to the GNU Public Licence terms, they also must agree to adhere to the Sun Industry Standard Source Licence (Sissl). Under the terms of Sissl, licensors must agree to adhere to Sun-specified application programming interfaces and compatibility tests.

Since July, when it announced its intentions to open-source StarOffice, Sun has worked closely with CollabNet, a company dedicated to managing collaborative code development efforts. It has divided the massive StarOffice code base into 75 modules, grouped into 18 projects, such as printing, scripting engines, spreadsheets, and the like. Currently, all 18 projects are headed by Sun employees, but Roth said Sun is expecting "others in the community to take over some of them over time".

Roth said there are more than 450 "rugged individualists" working at Sun and other companies who have committed to work on the open-sourced StarOffice code base. This includes developers at companies as large as Boeing down to Mike@tired.com, a guy who is working on user interface issues, Roth said.

As part of Friday's Openoffice.org announcement, Sun announced that it is making Extensible Markup Language, or XML, the default file format for StarOffice, replacing the suite's former proprietary binary file format. Sun will continue to support filters that support Microsoft's Office file formats, among others.

StarOffice is one of a handful of desktop office suites and one of the very few cross-platform ones.

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